Late last year, Vancouver made the controversial move to ban the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) in public places where smoking is prohibited as well as their sale to minors. The controversy behind the ban was evident by the results of a poll by Metro News, where out of over 2500 of its readers, 65% of people opposed the ban.
This may be because many people think of e-cigarettes as a less harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes, similar to that of products such as nicotine patches or nicotine gum. However, it is worth noting that in Canada, only e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine can be legally sold which means that e-cigarettes may not curb cravings as well as the aforementioned nicotine containing products. Regardless, when it comes to their safety in comparison to cigarettes, opponents may be on the right track. When the Canadian Cancer Society was asked whether e-cigarettes were less harmful than cigarettes, they said, “Yes, because the products contain no tobacco, nor tobacco smoke.”
So if e-cigarettes appear to be less harmful than cigarettes, why the big fuss? An article in the Vancouver Sun about the topic made it clear that one of main causes of concern is the effect of e-cigarettes on youth. In the article, Dr. Meena Dawar, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, says that although e-cigarettes aren’t proven to be linked to any cancers, they are quite new and the vapour they produce may still contain certain carcinogens, cytotoxic chemicals and heavy metals present in tobacco smoke. Moreover, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that high levels of formaldehyde, a cancer causing agent found in cigarettes, was present in some varieties of e-cigarettes which is a concern as it would eventually be inhaled by the user.
Lastly, an article in the Metro adresses the concern that e-cigarettes are normalizing the concept of smoking and are diminishing the work that has gone into making smoking ‘taboo’ in our society. Additionally, proponents for the ban argue that advertising for e-cigarettes often seems to be targeted to youth in terms of the different flavours available and the ‘fun’ packaging.
The YouTube video shown below is a great summary of the potential health risks of e-cigarettes.
Credit: CNN on Youtube
In summary, although there is not much conclusive evidence out there on the dangers of using e-cigarettes compared to what is out there for cigarettes, I personally support Vancouver’s decision to go ahead with the ban because e-cigarettes are relatively new and it is hard to evaluate their long term effects. Additionally, when it comes to the health of our society, I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to err on the side of caution.